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Fantasy experience brings people of all different walks of life together for love of basketball

Photo gallery: Day One

Cris Carter is one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history, amassing nearly 14,000 receiving yards and 130 touchdowns throughout his Hall of Fame career. Chris Arington is the CEO of Prasco and experienced sudden cardiac arrest just a little over three months ago. Ric Elias is the CEO of Red Ventures and was a passenger on Flight 1549 that crash-landed in the icy Hudson River in January of 2009.

This weekend, all three highly successful and very different men shared a basketball court at the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience.

Former NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter has enjoyed his first time at the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

Former NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter has enjoyed his first time at the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“It’s really nice,” Carter said of playing with so many people with various backgrounds. “All different walks of life, different creeds, different parts of the country, but all of us have one common thing and that’s basketball, and we love basketball. That’s really, really refreshing to see older guys still enjoying to play, still competing, still trying to play the right way.”

Participants in the fifth annual camp were able to live the life of a Kentucky basketball player for three days. They went through practices, film study sessions and competed in games. They had access to the locker room and training room and even spoke at press conferences following each game.

In addition to that, the campers are coached by former and current college head coaches and assistant coaches. Among this year’s coaches were UK assistants John Robic and Tony Barbee, ESPN college basketball analysts Seth Greenberg and Dino Gaudio, UMass head coach Derek Kellogg and Fresno State associate head coach Jerry Wainwright.

“Dino Gaudio is our coach and he’s a true pro,” Arington said of the former Wake Forest head coach. “He doesn’t miss a beat whether it’s practice, preparation, game adjustments. He’s not here on vacation, he’s here coaching and that’s what we love about him. He’s truly getting on you when you make a mistake and praising you when you do something good.”

Carter is playing at Calipari’s fantasy camp for the first time, while Arington is in it for the third time and Elias has competed in it all five years.

Carter’s attendance at Coach Cal’s camp is a long time coming. While he was a star on the gridiron, Carter was also quite adept on the hardwood growing up and was coached by Calipari at the famous Five-Star Basketball Camp when he was just a teenager.

After experiencing sudden cardiac arrest just more than 90 days ago, Chris Arington is competing in Coach Cal's fantasy camp once again. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

After experiencing sudden cardiac arrest just more than 90 days ago, Chris Arington is competing in Coach Cal’s fantasy camp once again. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“Coach Cal’s been trying to get me to come with ProCamps for the last three or four years, but (because of) my schedule with preseason games this was the first year I was able to make it and get it on my calendar,” Carter said. “I’m enjoying it. I’ve been a big fan of Coach Cal since Five-Star Basketball Camp when I was 15, 16. He coached me for a few years there, so 35 years ago. We stayed in contact with each other. That’s what brings me here.

“This is kind of the heart and soul of college basketball. It’s one of the five premier spots that they’ve ever played basketball at in the country. I think all that adds to the allure. And Coach Cal is so cool too. So down to earth. And the people he brings in, they know what they’re doing.”

Calipari often tells his own players that every game they play during the season is the other team’s Super Bowl. Being the lone NFL Hall of Famer at the camp, Carter can relate to a certain extent, as many players perhaps want to show him what they’ve got.

“It’s really fun to see what world class athletes do. How they compete,” Elias said. “I think it’s fun.”

Elias and Arington have taken the floor each time in this week’s camp with a common appreciation for life. After they each experienced life-altering and death-defying moments, the fantasy experience offers an opportunity take a walk down memory lane.

For Arington, being on the Kentucky campus, in the locker rooms and sharing that camaraderie with his fellow campers reminds him of his youth when he played basketball at Wilmington College. After experiencing sudden cardiac arrest a little more than 90 days ago, he took time off work and is still recovering but says he’s done more each game and is feeling good and strong.

Ric Elias, who has been to all five of Coach Cal's fantasy camps, said his favorite part of the camp is the competition, which he said brings out the kid in him again. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

Ric Elias, who has been to all five of Coach Cal’s fantasy camps, said his favorite part of the camp is the competition, which he said brings out the kid in him again. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“You just don’t want to pass up on opportunities like this,” Arington said. “After you go through an event like that where maybe I was busy with work or something and had passed on an event like this you just realize that you gotta make sure you take – really you’re not guaranteed any day. You better take advantage of every day.”

Elias knows all about that after being aboard the Miracle on the Hudson. He’s been to fantasy camps all over the country, including Duke, Syracuse, USA Basketball, Kansas and Miami. He always returns to Coach Cal’s though because of how open, accommodating, fun and unique the experience is.

“There’s always good players here,” Elias said. “Cal’s the best. Any coach that opens his home to you and his program to you, it’s unique. Cal is special that way. It’s great to see his alumni come back. This is much more of an extended family.”

Almost 50, Elias says the camps give him motivation to maintain “reasonable health” and he enjoys all of the friends he’s made over the years through the camps. After Flight 1549, the camps offer him a chance to be a kid again.

“It’s an amazing gift to say goodbye to your life and have a chance to come back and do it again,” Elias said. “Even a lot of being a kid and playing basketball again and all that is almost not losing the kid in us, and not losing the dreaming and having fun and all that.”

One thing all three men share in addition to their love of basketball is their love to compete.

“I just love competing,” Elias said. “Coming together as a team and having fun competing. That’s a lot of fun.”

“When you get older you don’t have that outlet,” Arington said. “I guess that’s why a lot of people go to golf. It’s the only thing you can compete with and hopefully not get hurt. But yeah, being physical, you miss that. Growing up playing baseball, football, basketball, you miss those competitive juices for sure.”